(Credit: Mohammad Yassine / L'Orient Today)


From Baabda to Rabieh: Find here our live coverage on Aoun's last day at the Presidential Palace

What you need to know

Michel Aoun was elected on Oct. 31, 2016, after 30-month-long presidential vacuum.

His six-year term was marked by a serious socio-economic crisis, considered by the World Bank as one of the worst since the second half of the nineteenth century.

Aoun's term ends tomorrow while the Parliament has not yet succeeded in electing a new president and the current government has been serving in caretaker capacity since May.

15:13 Beirut Time

Dear readers,

This concludes our live coverage of Michel Aoun's last day in Baabda palace and his move, among scores of supporters, to his residence in Rabieh.

Thank you for following us.

(Credit: Mohamed Azakir / REUTERS)

15:01 Beirut Time

In the official text of the letter sent to Parliament, published in the afternoon by Baabda Palace, Aoun wrote that he called the Parliament to "take the necessary measures or decisions to prevent things from deviating in a direction that is not in the interest of the country."

"Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has expressed to me, as he has expressed to others, that he is not enthusiastic about forming a new government for various reasons," the president said.

President Aoun opposed the contention given his departure from Baabda the caretaker cabinet exercises the prerogatives of the head of state until a new president is elected. Aoun added that Mikati must "recuse himself so that a new prime minister can be appointed and that the decrees for the formation of a government are quickly issued in order to avoid a vacuum, unless Parliament removes his appointment," since it is the MPs who appointed him. 

14:21 Beirut Time

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Sunday received from caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati a letter informing him that the latter's government will continue to perform its duties in its caretaker capacity. The premier sent the letter after President Michel Aoun sent another letter to Berri informing him of the government's resignation.

Mikati said that his government "will continue to carry out all its constitutional duties, including conducting business in accordance with the Constitution's provisions and the regulations that govern its work and how to take decisions stipulated in the Constitution and in decree No. 2552/1992, if Parliament has no different opinion."

The decree signed by Aoun regarding the caretaker government's resignation "lacks any constitutional value," Mikati also stated in his letter to Berri.

Mikati continued that "preventing our government … from carrying out its constitutional tasks and duties, including following up on its conduct of business, under any pretext, constitutes a breach of its duties and exposes its head and members to constitutional accountability."

14:06 Beirut Time

"We still don't have a candidate and this is a sign of incapacity," Gebran Bassil admitted to reporters in Rabieh, after his arrival outside Aoun's residence.

When asked about his own candidacy, he replied, "Can you forget about me? That will appease you."

"We have our natural candidate but did not name him to pave the way for other candidates," he added, in what may have been a reference to his own early designs on the office.

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine / L'Orient Today)

13:58 Beirut Time

Aoun's motorcade arrives in Rabieh, where it is welcome by a Zaffeh (traditional dance) band and dancers, as well as a crowd of supporters. 

(Credit: Mohammad Yassine / L'Orient Today)

13:39 Beirut Time

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told L'Orient-Le Jour that he will convene Parliament for a session devoted to studying the letter sent by Aoun to Parliament to speed up the process of government formation. "In accordance with Article 145 of Parliament's rules of procedure, I will convene Parliament for a session within three days," he said.

"What is needed now is to elect a president," added the legislative leader in a dig at the move announced earlier by Aoun, his biggest opponent on the local scene.

The president announced on his way out of the Presidential Palace that he had signed the resignation decree of Najib Mikati's caretaker cabinet and sent a letter to Parliament to notify it.

13:22 Beirut Time

After leaving the Presidential Palace grounds in a motorcade, Michel Aoun is on his way to his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

Lebanese Army helicopters fly above the convoy. Aoun's term in office will officially end on Monday night.

12:52 Beirut Time

Aoun also brought up the "capital control" law on bank deposits, which he said should have been implemented to prevent some people — he offered no names — from taking large sums of money out of the country and to preserve the rights of the small depositors, who make up the biggest percentage of depositors and who have suffered the brunt of the financial crisis.

A capital control law has been under study by the government and Parliament 's Finance and Budget Committee for three years, but it has not yet been approved. 

(Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

12:51 Beirut Time

Aoun spoke as his supporters chanted and waved FPM flags.

He accused the central bank's governor, Riad Salameh, of committing "most banking crimes" and the Higher Judicial Council of hindering the investigation into 2020 Beirut port explosion, as "the innocents remained in the jails" — a reference to the officials detained following the explosion and who still await trial.

"The country needs reforms and to get rid of the influential figures who paralyzed the judiciary and stopped the investigations into the port explosion," he said.

"They are fighting us because there is an investigation that will lead them to the courts," he continued, in a dig at the Amal Movement-affiliated former ministers who have been cited in the investigation of Judge Tarek Bitar. Amal's leader, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, is one of Aoun's most notable foes in Lebanese politics.

(Credit: Joao Sousa / L'Orient Today)

12:50 Beirut Time

"The demarcation of the [maritime] borders will allow us to extract our national wealth from oil and gas, which will give us enough capital to save the country," he continued. Lebanon and Israel on Thursday officially concluded a deal on border delineation between the two countries.

12:38 Beirut Time

"You are with me and I am with you. Today is the end of an era, but there will be a new era," Aoun continued, adding, "The next era will require struggle, strong struggle. I left behind me a situation that requires struggle and work."

12:35 Beirut Time

In front of his supporters, in his last statement from the Presidential Palace, Aoun addressed his supporters saying that he has signed the resignation decree of Najib Mikati's caretaker cabinet and that he addressed a letter to Parliament to announce he considers the cabinet as resigned.

He had previously threatened to take such a decision if a new cabinet was not formed before the end of his term.

The present government has been considered resigned since the end of the previous legislature and the election of a new Parliament in May. With his latest move, the outgoing president may want to emphasize more strongly the illegitimacy of the Mikati's cabinet in the event of a vacuum in the presidency. But he may also be seeking to signify a revocation of the appointment of Najib Mikati as premier-designate, which would open the door to scenarios of constitutional and even security chaos.

12:24 Beirut Time

Michel Aoun walks on the red carpet installed at the entrance of the Presidential Palace, heading towards the crowd of his supporters, where he'll deliver a speech. In the crowd, people chant: "God, Lebanon, Aoun and that's all."

He salutes the members of the presidential guard, while a military band plays the national anthem.

(Credit: Caroline Hayek / L'Orient Today)

12:14 Beirut Time

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut Elias Audi said that "the presence of a president at the head of the state is necessary, as is the presence of a homogeneous government that works with a clear vision and a rescue and reform plan."

"It is in everyone's interest to elect a president and facilitate the formation of a government," he added. 

11:52 Beirut Time

"In a few years, the Lebanese people will be aware of the conspiracy woven under the mandate of President Aoun," said Elias Bou Saab, the deputy parliament speaker, who is close to the FPM.

"We must elect a president around whom there is an agreement. Today, the election of a new president is the responsibility of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri," he added, while the latter intends to call the various political formations to a dialogue after the Parliament failed, during four electoral sessions, to elect a successor to Aoun.

Until now, the FPM MPs have cast blank ballots during all parliamentary electoral sessions.

"It is clear that we will continue to work with President Aoun," said FPM MP Nada Boustany.

"We want him to rest because he has become very tired," added her colleague, MP Alain Aoun.

(Credit: Caroline Hayek / L'Orient Today)

11:49 Beirut Time

The political advisor to Michel Aoun, Antoine Constantine, told L'Orient Today that he believes that "the election of a president of the republic will not be long in coming," despite the "current circumstances that seem a little unclear."

"Local and international circumstances will lead in the coming months to a solution that will live up to [expectations]," Constantine added, without clarifying what these expectations are.

(Credit: Caroline Hayek / L'Orient Today)

Correction: A previous version of this entry stated erroneously that Antoine Constantine is the political advisor to Gebran Bassil. He is Michel Aoun's political advisor. 

11:33 Beirut Time

The head of the Maronite Church Bechara al-Rai took time during his Sunday homily to wish the president "the best after a long life during which he held various military and national positions before being elected president."

Rai expressed regret that Aoun is leaving Baabda Palace "without entrusting the presidency to a successor or a fully empowered cabinet." The government of Najib Mikati has been in caretaker mode, managing current affairs, since it assumed the status in the aftermath of the May 15 parliamentary elections.

Rai urged MPs, responsible for the presidential election, to have a "dialogue and secure a quorum" during future parliamentary sessions dedicated to the election of a new head of state.

MPs affiliated with FPM, Amal Movement and Hezbollah, withdrew at the end of the first round of voting at the last four parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new president, leading to a loss of quorum and the adjournment of sessions.

Rai said that by not electing a new president, the MPs "contribute indirectly to the political, financial, social and economic crises in the country."

"The [imminent] political vacuum is not a destiny but a plot against Lebanon," he said.

11:17 Beirut Time

Laura Warda, 50, an FPM supporter since 1989, camped in front of the Presidential Palace.

"He has sacrificed a lot for Lebanon. Now the mountain returns to its mountain," she said, applauding the president's signing of maritime border demarcation with Israel.

Standing next to Warda, Joseph told L'Orient Today that "the presidency has hurt Aoun, if he had not been [a president], he would have had more support. They didn't let him work to build a state." He added that he believes "[Gebran] Bassil will be his heir."

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine / L'Orient Today)

11:17 Beirut Time

In Sassine Square, in the Achrafieh area of Beirut, Christiane, in her 50s, traveled from Jounieh despite a foot pain that prevents her from walking to Baabda.

"I came to thank the general. This is my way of expressing my solidarity. I will not be able to continue to Baabda but I will follow the celebrations on television," she said. Christiane says she is not disappointed with Aoun's mandate: "He has done a lot of work for the diaspora, the forensic audit and other issues. To find a president like Gen. Aoun, you have to go back to the time of Camille Chamoun!" 

(Credit: Matthieu Karam / L'Orient Today)

11:14 Beirut Time

Manale (who asked that we not use her real name), 53, has worked at the palace cafeteria ever since Aoun became the president in 2016. L'Orient Today spoke to her as she was taking a selfie in front the building. "We are so moved, but not sad," she said. "We don't interfere with what happens, we are here to serve the president." 

11:09 Beirut Time

Jean Bassil, 48, who has supported the FPM since the 1990s, returned Saturday from Paris to participate in the president's farewell celebrations. "I came to tell the general that he is 'Bey el-kel' (Arabic for 'father of all'), and to thank him for everything he has done for the future of this country so that one day we can return to it," he said, claiming that Aoun "has fought against corruption. He tried to be a resister as much as possible, but as a president, he had to follow the Constitution."

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine / L'Orient Today)

11:06 Beirut Time

George, 58, a staunch supporter of the FPM party since 1998, told L'Orient Today that he commuted from Batroun, North Lebanon, to arrive in Baabda on Friday where he camped in front of the Presidential Palace awaiting Aoun's departure. "I am relieved that he is leaving. In power, he could not name the corrupt. Now he will be able to do so," George said.

"He leaves the house of the people to receive the love of the people," he added. "Michel Aoun made us live a dream."

Speaking about the socio-economic and financial crisis that the country has been reeling from for three years now, George believes that "it could have been worse" if a president other than Aoun had been in power. For him, Gebran Bassil, the president's son-in-law, who has signaled presidential ambitions, "will continue to implement Michel Aoun's message, but we will never love him as much."

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine / L'Orient Today)

10:57 Beirut Time

Rita Maalouf, 56, a supporter of the FPM since 1989, made the trip from Sin al-Fil to Baabda to show her support for Aoun. Wearing an orange t-shirt, a color associated with the FPM, she said she has "blind faith in him. He tried to fight corruption but they didn't let him work. He was unlucky in his term of office with all the crises the country went through, but what matters is that thanks to him, Lebanon was able to demarcate its maritime border with Israel."

(Credit: Lyana Alameddine/L'Orient Today)

10:52 Beirut Time

MP Ibrahim Kanaan (Metn/FPM) commented in a televised interview on the political vacuum that the end of Aoun's mandate will create while Lebanon's government remains in caretaker mode, saying that "the restrictions on conducting business would become greater if the president signs a decree accepting the government's resignation."

The threat of a total vacuum in the executive for the first time in Lebanon's history grows the presidential deadline arrives and the cabinet remains in a caretaker capacity. Kanaan added that if the government resigns, it would "constitute an impetus for electing a president to avoid prolonging the vacuum at the level of the presidency."

10:52 Beirut Time

In Baabda, songs to the glory of Michel Aoun and excerpts from his former speeches resound from loudspeakers. The orange FPM flags are far more numerous than the Lebanese flags present, as is the case on the roads leading to Baabda.

In the gardens of the palace, the tents that were pitched on the lawn yesterday to allow Aoun's supporters to sleep on site are still installed. More  than 130 tents were pitched, according to one of the organizers.

(Photo credit: Caroline Hayek)

10:49 Beirut Time

In Baabda, Lodie came with her daughter for a "family outing." She carries the FPM flag in her hand and wears a t-shirt displaying with Michel Aoun's face with the slogan "We will trust you until death," just like her 13-year-old daughter. She explains that she has been supporting the president since the 1980s. "We are proud of him. We know that even if he leaves the palace, he will continue to work for the country. I never had any doubts about him and every time he was the target of criticism, it reinforced my support for him," she says. For her, the economic crisis is "a plot for Michel Aoun to lose supporters … but that failed."

Stephanie, her daughter, is very moved. "I love Michel Aoun. Since I was 6 years old I was demonstrating for him. I feel safe when I see his face, as if he had the face of God."

10:48 Beirut Time

Michel Aoun leaves Baabda three days after the formal conclusion of an agreement between Lebanon and Israel on the demarcation of their maritime border. This resolution of a long-standing dispute between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically still at war, was presented by Michel Aoun as his "gift" to the Lebanese for the end of his term.

With this "achievement", President Aoun wanted to kick off negotiations with Syria on their border dispute, but a "misunderstanding" led to the cancelation of the visit of a Lebanese delegation to Damascus. We explain in this article all the reasons behind the "niet" addressed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad to Michel Aoun.

10:45 Beirut Time

While the possibility of a presidential vacuum is becoming more and more concrete, the negotiations for the formation of a new government have become bogged down in tensions between Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, who is also the leader of the caretaker cabinet, and Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement. In addition to the unsuccessful negotiations on the formation of the cabinet, the two camps are tearing each other apart over whether or not a caretaker government can assume the prerogatives of the president in the event of a vacuum. It is in this context that during the past week Aoun has brandished the threat of a forced resignation of the caretaker cabinet, in order to make it lose all legitimacy to fill the presidential vacuum. He also raised on Saturday the specter of "constitutional chaos" with the end of his mandate.

10:39 Beirut Time

After three parliamentary sessions devoted to the presidential election, the Parliament has still not managed to elect a successor to Michel Aoun. The Free Patriotic Movement (founded by Aoun) and its allies have so far cast blank ballots, due to a lack of consensus between them on a candidate, while the so-called opposition parties (opposed to the FPM and Hezbollah) are voting mostly for Zgharta MP Michel Moawad. Each time quorum was reached (86 out of 128 MPs) to open a parliamentary electoral session, it was quickly lost after a first round of voting, postponing each time the election of a new head of state.

10:36 Beirut Time

Michel Aoun had acceded to the presidency on Oct. 31, 2016, two years and a half after his predecessor, Michel Sleiman, had left Baabda. He had finally been elected in a 46th electoral session, after his party and its allies blocked all parliamentary sessions for the election of a president, in a compromise with, among others, Saad Hariri's Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces of his longtime rival, Samir Geagea.

10:33 Beirut Time

Michel Aoun's term in office was marked by a severe socio-economic crisis, which pushed 80% of the population below the poverty line according to the UN, and which has been called by the World Bank one of the worst global crises since 1850's. The coronavirus pandemic also weighed on Aoun's term, during which the Beirut port blast of Aug. 4, 2020, also took place, all of which only accelerated the collapse of the state and its institutions.

10:33 Beirut Time

By Saturday evening, dozens of supporters had already gathered in the gardens of Baabda Palace, where tents have been set up. President Aoun and Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the party Aoun founded, visited the campers on Saturday evening to thank them for their presence at the palace.

10:32 Beirut Time

Welcome to our live coverage of the last day of President Michel Aoun's term at Baabda's presidential palace.A large procession of supporters is expected to accompany him on his trip from Baabda to his private home in Rabieh.